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The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
23 Aug 2009
The bravura performance by Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title role is spoiled by the kitschy and incoherent staging of this production. Mefistofele is unique among operas based on the Faust legend in that it rather closely adheres to Goethe’s version.
Indeed, the original, no longer extant,
version of this work was approximately six hours in length. Even in the
severely truncated revised version, Mefistofele has always proven
itself to be a serious work, with a libretto that (like Busoni’s
Doktor Faust) has some real literary merit. Unfortunately, following
the reigning spirit of Regieoper in Europe, director Miguel Del Monaco
and set designer Carlo Centolavigna have all but denuded this great opera of
its serious intent.
Opting for a 20th-century setting (which in and of itself is not a problem),
the “creative” team behind this production has missed the central
point of Boito’s (and by extension, Goethe’s) drama, namely, the
age-old Platonic opposition of the real and the ideal, in this case,
represented by the Margherita/Elena (Helen of Troy) duality. While the
ever-reliable Dimitra Theodossiou is afforded the opportunity to continue the
tradition of performing both roles, the intention behind this appears to be
economic rather than dramatic.
Act I is set in Frankfurt during Easter Sunday, but it is in the Germany of
the 1920s, not during Martin Luther’s time. This is at best a
questionable tactic because the seemingly peaceful interregnum of the Weimar
Republic had such terrible consequences in the following decades. Overloading
the already heavily-laden symbolism of the Faust legend with the tragedy of
modern German history helps to obscure Faust’s personal dilemma. Adding
to the incoherence of the staging, Del Monaco then proves not to have the
courage of his convictions by at least being consistent with the historical
implications of his staging of Act I, and sets Act IV, the Night of the
Classical Sabbath, in Las Vegas. Helen of Troy is reduced to being a showgirl
in a tawdry stage show and her attendant Nymphs reminded me of the June Taylor
Dancers who used to open the Jackie Gleason TV Show of the 1960s with overhead
shots featuring kaleidoscopic choreography.
The ultimate consequence of this staging of Mefistofele is that the
characters of Faust and Margherita/Elena are reduced to mere appendages of
Mefistofele’s mercurial personality. One of the problems with this opera
has always been the overshadowing of Faust and Margherita by Mefistofele. Del
Monaco’s staging has exacerbated tenfold this dramatic disparity.
The one saving grace of this production is Ferruccio Furlanetto’s
Mefistofele. His performance incorporates a spectacular bass voice with
animated acting. The acting, at times, may appear to be a bit over the top, but
it is forgivable given the imbecility of the staging. Indeed,
Furlanetto’s performance helps to divert attention away from the visual
and back to the musical, and for that we must be grateful.
To be charitable to the performers, I thought that the singers and orchestra
performed rather well, but at times it was difficult to gauge this accurately
since this DVD suffers from very poor balance. Even allowing for the recording
difficulties inherent in a live performance, there is really no excuse in this
day and age for a professionally recorded DVD to have such poor audio
This DVD will have appeal mostly to fans of Ferruccio Furlanetto. My advice
is to turn off the video and listen to the voice.
William E. Grim